As many others, I was deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Bob Tasca Sr. this past January at the age of 83. I was shocked when I read Bob was 83 because the ad company I founded, CBC, worked with the Tascas when he was 56 years old. At that time, there was only Tasca Lincoln Mercury in Seekonk. After many years as one of America’s most successful Ford dealers, Bob had taken a hiatus from the Ford business and was helping put Lincoln Mercury on the map in Rhode Island. (Seekonk, MA is a suburb of Providence, Rhode Island’s largest city.)
Before I share a few thoughts on the marketing genius of Bob Sr., let me tell you about how impressed I was to be working with one of the all-time automotive greats in America. Back when I was a boy growing up in Agawam, MA, I would hear the radio commercials for Tasca Racing at Connecticut Dragway. In automotive shop at our high school I would listen to fellow gear-heads talk about the ‘Wizard of Ford’ in Rhode Island. The man who could fix any Ford: Bob Tasca. In fact, many people from our area would take problems no other Ford dealer could solve all the way to the holy grail of service departments at Tasca Ford…about a four hour ride back in those days.
Fast forward to 1984 and here I was sitting on the couch in the Tasca office in Seekonk with Bob Sr., sons Bob Jr., Carl and David, having just been hired on as an advertising agency. Our business relationship continued for almost 10 years and included the thrill of seeing the Tascas outsell every other Lincoln Mercury dealer in America two years in a row. In one of those years, 1986, they sold almost 650 vehicles in December.
Not only did I have the honor and opportunity to work with Bob Sr. and the Tasca family, but I had the privilege of attending Tasca Automotive Marketing University for 10 years. The educational experience could never be duplicated at any institute of higher learning at any price.
So what was the marketing genius of Bob Sr.?
Market your strengths. No one knew more about what made Fords run better than Bob Tasca. No one. Bob was a passionate, fanatic about service. When you bought a Ford from Tasca, it would be mechanically as near to perfection as possible or Bob Sr. would make it so. Bob spent a good amount of time under the hood and under the rack making the cars he sold run right. His tremendous pride in customer satisfaction didn’t go unnoticed. Ford Motor Company held Bob Sr. in the highest esteem for his contributions in making Ford service satisfaction the highest priority. It was befitting that all of the top management, including the CEO of Ford, along with many members of the Ford family paid tribute to Bob at his memorial services in Providence. For a period of time, when American made vehicles were not being built to Bob Tasca’s high standards, the dealership even offered a ‘blue-print’ program in which Bob and his staff would literally ‘re-fit’ doors, hoods and other parts to exacting specifications. At an additional cost of course. Even Bob was amazed at the number of customers who took Tasca up on this optional offer. As Bob would say, you can buy a Ford at any Ford dealer in America. But you can only buy a Tasca ‘Blue-print’ Ford at one location.
Stay close to your customers. Bob Sr. knew his customers better than most retailers. He spent hours listening to their needs, challenges, lifestyles and preferences. This enabled the Tasca family to order the right vehicles in the right colors with the right options at the right time. If Bob Tasca had been selling Toyotas, they might not be in the mess they are now. Bob Sr. would have been at the assembly plant demanding a fix after a handful of customers had complained. Bob not only listened to his customers, he became their advocate. When something wasn’t right, Bob would go to the very top to get it fixed if he had to. And he did many times.
Identify and utilize the most effective marketing channels for each customer segment. I’ll never forget Bob Sr. telling the story of how he stood on a bridge one morning watching the cars and trucks coming over it, and noting the time. Bob was an early believer in radio and used it successfully. His bridge lesson taught him that most of the vehicles coming over the bridge from 5:30 am until 7:30 am were used. Most of the vehicles coming over the bridge from 7:30 am till 9 am were new. So Bob advertised used vehicles in his radio spots scheduled before 7:30 am and new vehicles after 7:30 am.
Volume is key to success. Back in the day when many auto dealers stocked a handful of new vehicles and pressed customers to order in their choice of options, Bob Sr. recognized the desire of most customers to “shake hands with the door handles.” He was one of the first true “volume” dealers on the East Coast, stocking hundreds of vehicles so customers could take immediate delivery.
Make it easy for the customer…and the salesperson. Keep it simple! For many years Tasca would order the most popular vehicles in a limited number of the most popular colors with only three trim packages. It eliminated the confusion for the salespeople and expedited the decision making process for the customer.
Create excitement with limited editions. Bob Sr. was one of the first dealers to offer special limited edition vehicles available with special upholstery and options. Often the Tasca’s would offer cars with grill treatments, spoilers and wheels that completely changed the look of the car. The Tasca limited edition vehicles often bore special custom model Identification plates and plaques. Bob Tasca offered the average, ordinary car shopper an opportunity to own an exclusive, designer edition for not much more than the price of a typical model.
Constant innovation. Eustace Wolfington, originator of the ‘Half-A-Car’ two-year lease concept approached Bob Tasca in the early 80s with an idea that would revolutionize the way people drove cars. Bob Tasca Sr. embraced the idea and quickly made Tasca the largest volume two-year lease dealer in America.
Integrity, honesty and trust as the framework for all marketing. Bob Tasca said what he meant, and meant what he said. Loyal customers knew they could count on the Tasca family to stand behind anything the dealership offered. He never ran an advertisement for an offer he could not fulfill. He never used sleight of hand to mislead. I recall one time when a new model Cougar had just launched and it was dead in the water everywhere. It was radical new style that just hadn’t caught on. Bob Sr. told me to bring the camera. He was going to cut a commercial and make an offer. Without a script and without a teleprompter. Without cue cards, Bob looked into the camera and says: “Folks, you know how long I’ve been selling cars. This new Cougar is one of the best built vehicles I’ve ever sold. So I make this offer. Come in. Drive it. Buy it. If you don’t like it, bring it back in 30 days and I’ll give you every dime of your money back. What more can I say?”
I asked Bob what he would like to put on the screen as a disclaimer. “Nothing!” he said. “If they don’t like it, I’ll give them every dime of their money back. Period.” Tasca sold more Cougars that month than any of the top three dealerships in America.
Bob Tasca Sr. was not only a marketing genius, he simply was a great man. He never forgot his humble beginnings. He never forgot his friends. He loved his family deeply, and he always spoke the truth.
A lot of lives are a lot better because of Bob Tasca Sr. Mine is one of them.